Tip: If you really want to delve deeper into pertinent and very relevant themes and more fully fleshed out characters, you can consider reading the (very hilarious and satirical) book before watching the movie (if you have the patience for it) so you can form your own idea of the characters before watching the movie. The trilogy is pretty awesome and goes a lot deeper into issues that were more superficially touched on in the movie
Disclaimer: This is rather simplistic of a review as I have not been kept up to date with what is going on in Singapore too much and read the book ages ago
Shoutout to Singapore which served as a spectacular backdrop showcasing numerous locations and familiar places such as CHIJMES, Changi Airport, hawker centres (yaaaas), Gardens by the Bay, Sentosa Island, Marina Bay Sands, Raffles Singapore Hotel, Humpback Restaurant and Ann Siang Hill #represent
First, I shall state my misgivings about the film. The typical trope of "poor smart girl who marries into rich family" as well as jealous and catty females eyeing Singapore's most eligible bachelor and throwing a lot of shade the way of the protagonist has been well worn and overdone in romantic comedies. To be honest, a lot of topics and secondary storylines could have been better explored as well such as the topic of immigration, wealth stratification, marriage breakdowns and perhaps even racial tensions. Some of the characters were quite blah too. I also thought the ending was too fairytale-like and not as deliciously satirical as the book.
However, I was pretty impressed by the wonderfully defined and diverse characters (all Asian cast), all with distinctive characteristics and backstories. Awkafina, in particular, absolutely stole the show with much needed comic and swashbuckling relief as the outlandish and trusty BFF who came into a character of her own. Her family was pretty comedically epic as well.
Most notably, I enjoyed watching Rachel Chu, the female protagonist, really grow, yet stand her ground which she could have compromised on amidst entering this new world of unrivalled levels of wealth and glamour. Being thrown into a completely different cultural background in Singapore versus her more liberal upbringing in the States must have been harrowing but she dealt with it quite gracefully and with amazing self assurance.
Also, can we just take a moment to talk about Michelle Yeoh the actress who starred as Eleanor Young and how she knocked it out of the park as the fashionable ice queen Asian mother. Her role as the dominating, intimidating and overbearing who strikes fear in the hearts and minds of many is admittedly a caricature, but quite laughingly representative of Asian mothers out there. As Awkwafina summed up eloquently, "Asian mother love is a very specific kind of love." She clearly disapproves of Rachel due to her much less privileged upbringing and lack of understanding of what it means to be in a traditional Asian family, which may cause him to compromise on his values and not "give face" to their family (again, a very traditional Chinese notion). This actually stems from Eleanor's deep-rooted insecurities having been dealt the same treatment from her imposing mother-in-law. She made heavy sacrifices as the matriarch and gave up her ambition of becoming a lawyer. The relationship between Rachel and Eleanor is actually complex and far from just a cat-and-mouse relationship. Eleanor herself made a lot of sacrifices to bring up her sons and is protective of what being a "Young" stands for. There is almost an element of sympathy with regards to her behavior towards Rachel as she UNDERSTANDS what she is going through and the sacrifices it takes to be a "Young" and part of a VERY traditional and wealthy family.
Yes, at its core, it is (an extremely extravagant and glitzy) romantic comedy. I do imagine the love between Nick & Rachel started out and remained genuine (even though personally I thought Nick was quite boring as a character besides his conventional good looks), if you disregard all the shit being thrown their way. However, this movie really has a lot more substance to it than it appears to have on the surface - touching on race, family, wealth and cultural tensions. It transcends racial expectations (yay for an all Asian cast!!! -happy dance-) and presents underrepresented voices in the limelight without making a caricature or stereotype of Asians. Some of the characters here were portrayed as fully realized, real and flawed characters and not your stereotypical Asians.
Another important lesson learned - EVERYTHING COMES AT A PRICE. These people do represent the top 1% of Singapore's elite, and they are filthy rich, but are they truly happy? A lot of festivities seemed like a facade to impress other people who they didn't even genuinely like. Most of them were downright catty, entitled and bitchy. Rich people struggle (maybe more than normal people) and have major frustrations such as power struggles, tensions and expectations that accompany being in that bubble.
All in all, the movie served as sometimes terrible and downright materialistic, but also breathtaking, satirical, bewildering and complex journey of a Chinese American woman learning to navigate wealth and cultural tensions in a different country and cultural context which shines a beacon of hope and introspection re identity issues to all of us Asian ladies out there. It definitely made me question my own personal identity (having lived in different countries) and stirred up conversation among my friends who watched it. It brings forward many important conversations and differences that a lot of people may not even be aware of regarding the discrepancies of Asians who grew up in Asia and those who grew up in the Western World. I can only hope to see more of such Asian stories with more Asian actors being narrated and portrayed in an increasingly human and compelling manner in the media and that one day, being Asian won't even be noted as a big deal at all (one can dream...) and they can be recognized as fully realized and complex people in their own right on the small and silver screen!